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MOVIE REVIEW (RETRO): The Pit (1981)

Please allow me the new guy at Tortured Souls to get a bit misty eyed about a film that is near and dear to my black heart. Back before everything under the sun got the star treatment on Blu only a handful of companies truly were catering to the rabid cinemaphile. One such company believe it or not was MGM who released scores of great films under their label MGM Midnight Movies. Like Anchor Bay the label introduced me to many movies that would go on to be lifelong favorites. But the one I’m going to talk about is a grimy little gem called The Pit, a movie I adore so much I included it in my upcoming film guide.
The Pit follows the story of a disturbed boy named Jamie (Sam Snyder) who ranges from innocent weirdo to sadist sociopath and worse. His bizarre behavior is all guided by his teddy bear aptly named Teddy (voiced by Snyder) who, of course, only Jamie can hear. His parents have to take a business trip and they hire a college student named Sandy (Jeannie Elias) who works with troubled youths. Jamie happens to take an intense liking to her. But things go from weird to downright nutso when he discovers a pit full of hairy creatures. Everyone in the town that’s been mean to him will soon pay.
You will most likely rub your eyes in disbelief after witnessing this out of its mind shocker from the early 80s. Even though I like this film a great deal it does have its share of problems. The Pit suffers from a wildly uneven story which feels like a strange mixture of creature feature, childhood revenge fantasy, and sleazy exploitation. At times it feels like a haphazardly put together jigsaw puzzle. It is also is all over the place tone wise, swaying from dark to playfully comedic. For example a scene depicting Jamie shoving an crusty old bitty into the pit is obviously played for laughs. Even with its technical flaws the film still manages to pull it all together and remain incredibly watchable. Wisely director Lew Lehman balances the dark subject matter (and it does get dark, even strongly hinting at an incestuous relationship between Jamie and his mother yikes!). As I said it does make for wonky tones but it also serves the film by helping to keep things light and even invites us the audience to have a laugh at itself.
The other element that helps hold this manic production together is its top notch cast. Considering this movie largely centers on Jamie, it’s important to get just the right person. Luckily they did just that. Child actor Sam Snyder really nails the role and brings a level of maturity that is rare in performers his age. He ranges from sweet but strange to downright skin crawling, all without going ultra hammy. The lovely Jeannie Elias is also great and the two actors play off each other brilliantly. The Pitvisn’t big bold and splashy like some films of the decade but when everyone was cashing in on the slasher craze it dared to be different for better or worse. It currently holds a respectable 6.0 rating on IMDb. Being a fan you could only imagine how excited I was when the label Kino put out a wonderful blu, featuring a brand new transfer and extras. Anyone looking for truly off beat 80s horror should consider this a must see.
Gorehound Mike signing off.

Posted by Mike Vaughn

Michael Vaughn is a cult film historian and has been featured in magazines such as Scream (UK) and Fangoria as well as websites like Films in Review –Currently he has a book coming out entitled The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema. Instagram castle_anger https://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Guide-Strange-Cinema/dp/0764354280

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